The value of watching old surf films

Surfing has witnessed an incredible evolution over the years. However, taking a look back and watching classic surf films offers a unique perspective that can't be found in modern flicks. These films offer a window into the roots of the sport and the essentials of power surfing, which are sometimes lost amidst today's flashy, aerial maneuvers. This isn’t some unique learning technique that I discovered either. Listen to any pro surfer talk about what they do to get stoked for surfing and they’ll tell you about how they’ll watch the old surf films they grew up watching endlessly in the days before social media.

Tom Current on his first ever wave at J-Bay
1. The Emphasis on Power Surfing Fundamentals
In contrast to the prevalent hyper-gymnastic aerial-focused surfing we see today, older films center around the raw power and elegance of traditional wave riding. The core essence of surfing – harnessing the energy of the wave and translating it into fluid motion – is more palpable in these older films. This clip of Kelly Slater shredding in tiny junky waves is something I’ll often watch before I go before a surf in small waves:
2. Relatable and Realistic Surfing

The long, drawn-out maneuvers seen in vintage surf movies offer a more realistic portrayal of surfing for the average surfer. Watching legends like Tom Curren seamlessly glide across J Bay’s waves, maintaining a relaxed and poised form, serves as an inspiration. His low stance, relaxed arms, and undeniable style aren't just aesthetics; they're fundamental techniques. Observing these attributes provides not just a lesson in elegance but also showcases a (somewhat more) attainable goal for many surfers. If you haven’t seen this clip of Tom Curren surf his first wave at J Bay it is a must watch:

3. Limitations: A Relatable Challenge

The surfboards from past eras were significantly different from today's finely tuned Ferrari’s. With more length and volume, the boards required a different approach. Their limitations in terms of maneuverability and speed made surfers rely heavily on their skills and wave knowledge. This held the surfers back in terms of what they could do, but also those kinks made their surfing more relatable. You can see sometimes how they’ll have several stages through their turn, and this can be helpful for anyone trying to break that turn down into pieces. For anyone currently riding a board with more volume, this older style of surfing can feel especially relevant and achievable. 


In an age of rapid progression and innovation in the surfing world, it’s essential not to forget the foundations that built the sport. Watching old surf films isn't just a nostalgic journey; it's a lesson in the fundamental techniques of good surfing. Whether it's to understand the history, refine techniques, or find inspiration, there's tremendous value in revisiting the classics.

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